The Removal of Habits, Noticing Ordinary Miracles

August 14, 2013

Appreciating the taste of summer in a Hermiston watermelon

Appreciating the taste of summer in a Hermiston watermelon

“The habits of living day to day dull the senses — the ritual of getting up each morning, brushing your teeth, commuting to work, desk tasks, coming home, preparing for another day and heading to bed — so that I often cannot see the small wonders of the everyday world (grass growing, a cloud fleeting by in the shape of a bra, the child across the street learning to ride her bike; all ordinary miracles).  It is only when I am removed from habit that I can see a work of art that reveals a new mind’s vision, or when I am traveling in a foreign place, or when I fall in love.  And this seems a definition of love: the removal of habit, the ordinary world made foreign and wonderfully strange, life as a great visionary work of art.”
— Brian Bouldrey, Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica

I am spending my July and August months at home — no summer vacations for me.  But I like the message of today’s quote — that I can bring a vacation attitude to my daily life at home, step out of mindless habits, and look with beginner’s eyes at the ordinary things in my day.  And so I will savor the soft red flesh of this Hermiston (Oregon) watermelon, one of the miracles of this summer.  A small wonder, but precious because it is a seasonal gift in my everyday world.  It’s these small pauses of appreciation that can make an artful life.

“Commonplaces never become tiresome.  It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. . . . [We] find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.”

— Norman Rockwell, from Norman Rockwell: Pictures from the American People by Maureen Hennessey and Anne Knutson

 

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19 Responses to “The Removal of Habits, Noticing Ordinary Miracles”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Interesting. I was in immediate and complete disagreement with Mr. Bouldrey when I read his words about the habits of life dulling the senses.

    The cultivation of habits shapes our being, and to a great extent I’ve found habits provide freedom rather than constraint. One of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had was with a woman who left the convent. The toughest transition for her was giving up her usual clothing – the habit. She said deciding what to wear every day was torture – she finally adjusted by finding some things she liked, and wearing them (are you ready? drumroll, please!) habitually!

    Of course, this is a viewpoint not universally embraced, but then one of my favorite books is Flannery O’Connors collected letters, which is titled, “The Habit of Being”. I just feel like habits allow me to be more aware of life, not less.

    It’s funny – I feel like Mr. Bouldrey needs to meet Mr. Rockwell, whose quotation I agree with completely.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Bouldrey was “on vacation” hiking in Corsica, so in that context, he was describing his sense of new vision and aliveness that rose up from being in new surroundings. Like so many things in life, I agree with both points of view — that new surroundings can bring new insights and fresh ways of seeing old things in a new context, but also that habitual surroundings can bring insights and fresh thoughts. Habits and constraints can be freeing in exactly the way you describe, but they can also be imprisoning and dulling, especially if the habits are not consciously chosen and embraced. I like the complexity of these things.

      • camilla wells paynter Says:

        I just read (in Jon Turk’s “The Raven’s Gift”): “Shamans and saints from steamy rain forests to Arctic wastelands have sough privation as a path to ecstasy, to jolt the mind beyond the reality that the mind creates for itself. Of course, some people can travel great distances through meditation, without a laborious and consumptive airplane trip. Without freezing their feet in a Siberian river. I was just following a path works best for me. It’s not how we seek self-awareness; it’s whether we take the time and energy to make the journey.”

        His “jolt the mind beyond the reality that the mind creates for itself” seems apropos. Perhaps for some, their routines (or “habits”) are a form of meditation, which leads to the same type of awareness that for others can best be achieved by immersion in something completely outside of routine?

      • Rosemary Says:

        I think this is right. Each individual might have natural proclivities that make one way more appealing or necessary. And also that one and the same person can need one way of seeking one day, and another way of seeking on another day.

    • Rosemary Says:

      It would actually be interesting to think more about the good and bad effects of habits. What is it that makes some “bad” habits and others “good” ones?

      It occurred to me that I am similarly “on the fence” about collecting vs. minimalism. I am drawn to both sides of this coin as well. It is comforting and reveals something of oneself to have objects around, collected thoughtfully, and enjoyed. But I am also drawn to the idea of detachment, not becoming attached to material things, to paring down to other essences.

      • shoreacres Says:

        And I spent most of the afternoon at work thinking about this. I kept thinking about the old saying about “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree”. Habits are like that – they “bend” us, and send us growing in one direction or the other. (Hence: parental admonitions about bad habits and good habits. And that book: “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” – or whatever the exact title is.)

        I finally decided there’s a difference between “routine” and habits. Taking a vacation from “routine work” is one thing. On the other hand, I habitually enjoy my work so much that just “getting out of the office” doesn’t appeal to me.

        Love this post, and your added comments. It’s very thought-provoking, indeed.

      • Rosemary Says:

        I’d like to hear more about distinguishing routine from habit. What do you mean by that?

      • shoreacres Says:

        I’m not quite sure how to express it. Now I have something to think about at work today!

  2. Chris Says:

    My comment is not going to be quite as philosophical as the two previous but here it is, just the same! I LOVE the summer gift of watermelon as you say Rosemary. Like peaches and sweet corn, it says summer like no other food! To me, that is! It is a ritual of summer that I would never give up…kind of like habit! 🙂 I cut up the rinds and give them to my goats who seem to enjoy it as much as I do!
    I love that you mixed blackberries (another gift of summer) with your watermelon!

  3. Chris Says:

    Do you remember the old husband’s tale…if you eat the rind, you will get a terrible stomach ache? 🙂

  4. camilla wells paynter Says:

    I had a friend who used to take walks, in her neighborhood or around town, with the conscious intention that each walk was something like a tiny vision-quest. She would set out with the idea that the world had something to say to her, if only she would take a moment to “listen.” Walking, she would try to stay alert, in that frame of mind where everything is notable and novel, no matter how “ordinary” it appeared. Invariably, she could return from one of these walks and report on something she had learned, some insight she’d had. She believed in the ordinary miracles, magic all around us, if only we would see. I think this is very wise, and try, sometimes, at any rate, to go out into the day with this mindset. Lovely post!

    I was told not to eat the rinds, too, Chris…maybe they’re just meant for sharing, even with the bugs in the compost pile. 🙂

    • Rosemary Says:

      I like your friend’s attitude.

      I think some people pickle watermelon rinds. I’ve never tasted them, though. So they must be edible for humans.

      • Diana Studer Says:

        in South Africa they make waatlemoenkonfyt. Which I admit I’ve heard of, and seen, but never actually eaten. The idea is like orange peel in marmelade.

  5. Chris Says:

    Yes, they are edible and as I said, it was just an old husband’s tale! Wait, I think they meant raw, not pickled, which would render the tale….true? 🙂

    • camilla wells paynter Says:

      Hmmmm??? I won’t chow down on a raw one any time soon. I suspect our parents’ parents’ parents of having learned the hard way. 🙂 Interesting, though, about waatlemoenkonfyt (watermelon confit?)….there must be some way to enjoy them. Anything horses will fight over seems like it couldn’t be too bad….


  6. […] The Removal of Habits, Noticing Ordinary Miracles, August 14, 2013 […]


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